Death at the Border: Dying to Be Free

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By Luis Sosa

RECENTLY, THE TRAGEDY of the alarming number of immigrant deaths at the southern border has been reported [in the news]. The impact has been far-reaching on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. While the spotlight has largely shined on the migrants and the smugglers (coyotes) who are known for organizing the transfer of migrants across the border, none of the responsibility has been put on those who politically distort laws for the purpose of holding up and the building of the walls of division.

As socially-distorted thinkers are chanting, “Build the wall!” human beings hoping and searching for a chance at the better life are dying. What’s not as widely reported are the power and degree of the division these barriers have on the state of mental freedom [of those affected].

In a recent interview here at Mule Creek prison, Urban Ortega was generous with his story—a battle for survival and a struggle for a better life. Born in Michoacan, Mexico, at seventeen Urban crossed the U.S.-Mexican border. Because of his broken English our interview was conducted with a bilingual translator. He explains [with somber sincerity]:

“I needed to get away from the violence. From as far back in my childhood as I can remember, until the day I left, I witnessed several of my relatives and friends killed over money.” Life was not very promising for Urban, he didn’t know if he would live to see another day. When he crossed, he says it took them two and a half days in the rain, they ran out of food and he nearly died.

“I was scared to get caught by La Migra (Border Patrol). They’re know to hurt people, even leaving them to die [those that don’t make it across and are in need of food and water].” He inhaled deeply and shrugged his shoulders, “I can remember thinking, and telling myself, ‘Don’t give up no matter what,’ reminding myself that opportunity and a better life awaits.” Ortega exhaled and lowered his eyes.

Immigrant rights’ activist Jenn Budd, a former senior border patrol officer [in a BBC interview, June 29, 2022] stated that attempts to smuggle migrants across the border are an everyday occurrence. Smugglers mindful of profits often pack as many migrants as possible into vehicles, despite the dangers. One of the deadliest human trafficking tragedies resulted in the death of 53 migrants from Mexico and Central America after being locked in a tractor trailer. Many were people who had lost hope in a future in their hometowns and villages and were in search of better opportunities in America.

Marcello Hernandez Castillo shares his experience of being captured behind the wall. From the memoir, Child of the Land, Castillo writes:

“I ventured to believe that the function of the border patrol wasn’t to keep people out, at least, that was not its long-term function. Its other purpose was to be visible, to be seen, to be carried in the imagination of the migrants deep into the interior of the country, in the interior of their minds.

“It was a spectacle meant to be witnessed by the world, and all of its death and violence was, and continues to be, a form of social; the way that kings of the past needed to behead only one petty thief in the public square to control thousands more.”

If we have any chance at breaking through these barriers which are a disease to our social imaginations, we have to come together, and look closely at their supposed purpose…for the revealing of the physical, social, and physiological violence they inflict.

Moreover, we are witnesses of the discriminatory and inhumane nature of national border barriers, and we have the experiences of our fellow Mexican-Americans, families, and friends as evidence of man’s inhumanity to man. The social impact these walls have on all of us are physical, mental, emotional, and soul-crushing.

Essentially, as human beings we crave independence from tyranny, purpose in life, and the opportunity for self-actualization, we also understand the need for independence as a means to survive. These border walls, security fences, and other forms of divisiveness lock us in, and keep us out, separating people from pursuing the freedom of a better life.

How can a country advertise itself so proudly to be “the land of the free” and be so blind to fellow humans in such dire need? The socially distorted image being sold is bought and paid for with the lives of migrants dying at the border—those willing to pay any price for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Originally published by Incarcerated Journalists Training at Mule Creek State Prison


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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